"One of the reasons I came to IES was the focus for the next generation of the RELs. I appreciate the possibility of supporting local communities. . . to form partnerships and look at data. The great potential of the RELs is their emphasis on using data and research to inform practice."
After ten years of working in the education research world—including the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education and Johns Hopkins University's Center for Social Organization of Schools—Ruth Curran Neild became Associate Commissioner of NCEE's Knowledge Utilization Division in January 2011.
As Associate Commissioner, Dr. Neild oversees and administers programs to ensure the widespread dissemination of rigorously conducted education research and evaluation findings through the What Works Clearinghouse, the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Program, ERIC (the Education Resources Information Center), and the National Library of Education.
Here are some excerpts from a brief interview with Dr. Neild, where she reflected on her work at the Institute of Education Sciences.
What do you find most exciting about the work you are doing in the Knowledge Utilization division?
We are at a very exciting point in the history of Knowledge Utilization at IES. We are fortunate to be building on the excellent work that our predecessors, former IES director Grover "Russ" Whitehurst and NCEE commissioner Phoebe Cottingham, did to establish the strong scientific standards that are the basis of NCEE's work.
Our "new frontier" for Knowledge Utilization is to think about how to uphold these rigorous scientific standards while finding new ways to engage a broad audience of educators in the research that we and others produce. This really "ups the ante" for our work, because it requires clarity about the intended audience, how that audience uses research, and what we can do to increase the likelihood that the audience will find the research clearly presented and relevant to their needs. We are thinking about different ways to reach these audiences using non-traditional media (be sure to "friend" ERIC and the WWC on Facebook!), and also how to improve traditional formats through careful attention to use of language, presentation, and graphics. It is not difficult to find primers intended to help researchers speak more clearly to each other about their research findings, but frameworks and exemplars for how to present and package evidence so that educators can hear and understand it are still at a fledgling stage.
What are your top priorities over the next year?
The new generation of RELs, scheduled to begin in January 2012, will be asked to work in a sustained and collaborative way with educators on data analysis, research, and presentation of research findings. The RELs are to do some analysis and research, but also to model for practitioners how to be "data minded" when making decisions about programs and priorities. So, a major priority is to have the RELs get off to a good start, providing them with the support and troubleshooting advice they will need to be successful in their regions.
The RELs have been tasked with producing, among other things, tools and templates for educators. Since all widely published REL products are peer-reviewed, these new products will require us to develop new review processes that incorporate assessments of both research quality and usability by educators.
At the What Works Clearinghouse, we have developed a more user-friendly search system for products (searchable by topic, target population, and positive findings, among others) and are discussing what additional companion products can be developed to help educators make better use of WWC research summaries.
We also are beginning exciting discussions with the National Library of Education/ERIC team about the niche that ERIC can fill in a world that buzzes with information.
How do you plan on addressing the added challenges?
To help us with this expanded set of challenges, we have added new staff to complement our longtime team. These new team members bring a range of important expertise and experiences, including scholarly work on data use among teachers and education decision makers at the state level; experience in researcher-practitioner collaborations and use of longitudinal administrative data sets; experience in graphic presentation of data; and firsthand experience in school district research offices. Many of them also benefited from early IES investments in pre-doctoral and post-doctoral training. It's exciting to see these staff join IES after having already drawn on their scientific training to make education research both rigorous and relevant to the field.
Ruth Neild holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. Before her appointment as Associate Commissioner, Dr. Neild was an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School.
NCEE recently released the first of four reports from the Study of School Turnaround Models, which examines the implementation of School Improvement Grants (SIGs) authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Title I, section 1003(g). Supplemented by funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, SIGs provide $3.5 billion over the next 3 years for turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools. The report, Baseline Analyses of SIG Applications and SIG-Eligible and SIG-Awarded Schools, provides an overview of the characteristics of SIG-eligible and SIG-awarded schools and the specific policies and practices states grantees proposed to implement using their SIG awards.
Some of the main findings from the first report include:
Over the next 4 years, NCEE will release three other reports that will examine (1) whether SIG and Race to the Top (RTT) funding to implement school turnaround models has had an impact on outcomes for low-performing schools; (2) if state and district capacity, as defined under RTT, is related to improvement in outcomes for schools; and (3) if the implementation of the four school turnaround models—i.e., turnaround model, restart model, school closure, and transformation model; see the sidebar for key elements of each of model—and strategies within those models, is related to improvement in outcomes for low-performing schools.
SIG updates. You can get the latest news about SIGs by visiting the Department of Education's website at http://www.ed.gov/category/program/school-improvement-grants.